Do you know anyone from the U.S. who learned to do math on an abacus? Neither do I.
However, I do know that in countries like Japan and China where the abacus is still used, young children can do very complicated math problems at lightning speed using these skewered wooden beads. I've seen videos of them, and the beads make such satisfying clicks!
I also know that countries like Japan and China consistently have the highest math scores in the world while the U.S. trails dismally behind them and many other countries. I'd tell you exactly how far behind, but I don't have enough fingers to count. You can check out the stats for yourself here: International Math Scorecard .
So, I'm not a math whiz, but I can put two and two together, and what I get is that there is something to this magical mathematical apparatus called the abacus.
A couple of years ago I saw a montessori based math curriculum at a homeschool conference that used an abacus just like this one below. (If you want to buy this you can click on the picture and it will take you to the store that sells them.)
As you can see I marked the groups of fives with a black strip of tape which could have been done much easier with a Sharpie, but, I guess I had some time on my hands and nothing better to do so I cut strips of black tape and stuck them on each little individual bead. Now, as I type this out loud I realize that I should have just bought that abacus at the curriculum fair!
Anyway, I've been using this as another hands-on approach to addition and visualizing numbers. I teach the number 6 as 5 beads and 1 bead, and 7 is 5 and 2, 8 is 5 and 3, etc. It's been really beneficial. I would like to use the abacus more, but seeing as how I never learned to use an abacus myself, I'm kind of at a loss.
So, I'm learning more about how to use an abacus and I am amazed at how simple it can be once you "get it." Take a look at this website, http://www.abacusmaster.com/ watch the videos, test your own abacus skills. I just did and I think I'm sold on the concept. In fact, I just might turn the stiff combination on my padlocked pocketbook and actually buy one or two of these soroban Japanese style abacuses (or is it abaci?).
At any rate, I do want my children to have a much better foundation in math than I did with all the time-wasting counting of fingers and what not, and I think the abacus just might be the way to go. Here is another website that sells Soroban instruction books: http://mathabacus.com. So check it out, let me know what you think, and if I commit to going the total abacus route I'll blog about it and let you know.